05 August 2013

The Ashes 3rd Test, day 5, Old Trafford

The Ashes 3rd Test, day 5, Old Trafford:

Australia 1st innings:
7/527 dec. from 146 overs
Michael Clarke 187, Steven Smith 89, Chris Rogers 84, Mitchell Starc 66*, Brad Haddin 65*
Graeme Swann 5-159

England 1st innings:
368 all out from 139.3 overs
Kevin Pietersen 113, Alastair Cook 62, Ian Bell 60Peter Siddle 4-63, Mitchell Starc 3-76, Ryan Harris 2-82

Australia 2nd innings:
7/172 from 36 overs
Michael Clarke 30*, David Warner 41
Tim Bresnan 2-25, James Anderson 2-37

England 2nd innings:
3/37 from 20.3 overs
Ryan Harris 2-13, Peter Siddle 1-8

Result: Match drawn, England lead series 2-0 and retain the urn.

It is a depressing morning waking up to read the headlines. My source for statistical information, ESPN Cricinfo.com, had the headline: "England retain Ashes on rainy day". Dare I read on? Now I still have to get on with my working day.

Having stated this, I am extremely proud of my team after the fight they gave England this Test. The first match at Trent Bridge was close and our batting - along with the Broad incident - saw us fall 14 runs short. The second Test we were slaughtered due to a batting collapse of Cape Town magnitude in the context of the series. After being 2-0 down and needing to win the final three Tests, it is fair to say we would have won this game had the rain stayed at bay. It didn't and Manchester's heavens above opened for the English supporters to smile as their team ensured they retain the urn.

It is mission failed for us, but we still have the opportunity to ensure they don't win the series in terms of the scoreline. We can still ensure it goes down 2-2, as opposed to 2-0, 2-1, 3-0 or 4-0. There is still reason to fight for some pride and a way for this team to further connect on and off the field, so come the home Ashes we may see few changes done to the squad as we have another crack at the English to get back the urn. Stability will be important. Darren Lehmann has an opportunity to build that synergy, back these players and expand the team spirit in tough circumstances.

In 2009 before the series began, Michael Clarke gave a presentation to the team showing nothing more than a video clip of England celebrating their victory in 2005. The message was clear: don't let this happen again! Unfortunately for Clarke he has now seen it happen three times in a row and once while he has been in charge, leading a side now described as the worst touring Australian side to England.

I still stand by my belief that this was the best side we had and just played below their potential. Plain and simple. Some tweaks here and there would have been good, along with some off-field drama aside and umpiring issues which would have helped, but I am confident Darren Lehmann's appointment as coach was timely and that this was the best side selected to win back the urn. Unfortunately our batting at Lord's cost us if we are to blame ourselves, along with tactical blunders.

The umpiring standards have been torrid this series, but that is a debate of political heights so we'll leave that for another day.

This is usually the time when all the haters and casual cricket viewers come out and bash the team - bring on the criticism, I love a challenge from a pessimist. I will stand by my side and support them for what is left of this series. And as a supporter I will address the positives as we look ahead to the next Test, while England can have their moment to celebrate a close shave to have not found the series at 2-1 with two Tests to go.

Ryan Harris: Ryano's dismissal of Ian Bell in the first innings was tactically and technically outstanding. Had injury not burdened him he'd be right up there in the league of Dale Steyn and James Anderson. His performance in the second innings was courageous despite the weather odds against us. To top it of, his performance at Lord's was terrific but sadly in vain due to poorly disciplined batting. Good to have him back. He has 11 wickets at 18.00 from two Tests.

Peter Siddle
: He is always hard to leave out of a side because of his passion when playing for Australia. He's become a world class patch bowler, or burst bowler. He can find something in any track and every now and then can just get the ball to nip about or hit the seam to create something special. Like Harris, he gave it his best in the second innings.

Nathan Lyon: Lyon was destined to play in the final Test of the series and I am glad he got a run sooner than that. Despite Ashton Agar's debut performance with the bat, he never looked threatening with the ball in hand. Important to note this as he was selected as a spinner first. Having watched him at State level for Western Australia I still see him as a spin bowler to develop for the future. Lyon though has the experience and over seventy Test wickets. With confidence and support from Shane Warne he produced some beautiful spin bowling spells this Test. His wickets don't tell a true story. You had to have seen his performance.

He will also only get better the more he plays. Graeme Swann debuted in Test matches back in 2008, having come onto the scene for England in 2000. It took time for him to become a top class bowler and perseverance from the English selectors got him to where he is. It could happen for Lyon but we (supporters and selectors) need to back him.

Mitchell Starc: While Starc is still not able to assist with building the pressure, a crucial tactical element of bowling in tandem, he provides versatility in his game with both the bat and ball. His ability to get big wickets when he hits his line and length with consistency for a few overs goes a long way. More consistency and the ability to build pressure will see him come a long way.

Chris Rogers: Chris Rogers is given a hard time for his age - 35, so old! He's not exactly dead you know and the way he scrapped around that field, he put some of our youngsters to shame. He is quick between the wickets and his performance in the first innings of the Old Trafford Test was majestic. It was an elite innings in my opinion and the only issue was he didn't get that maiden-century. Stick with him until the home Ashes is done. We need the experience and keep in mind he has the second most runs for us this series.

Steven Smith:
As I wrote on day one of this Test, "
Smith has shown incredible application to his game when I think back to 2010/11 when he was plain and simply not ready for Test cricket. I was always frustrated with the selection of Smith as he was put into the Australian team well before he had sufficient first-class exposure.

This was made worse by the former selection panel not giving him a specific task. He was called in as a leg spinner, who was a part-time spinner at best. He was made to bat in a variety of positions but was impatient, fidgety and easy picking outside of off stump in the Test arena. Then he was just a specialist fielder, keeping out better players. It wasn't his fault but he took flack for it. The new selection panel kept him out the side until the time was right. He is now a better cricketer and is asserting himself as a batsman

Brad Haddin: He kept wicket particularly well this Test and after being down and out with the bat following his near heroics at Trent Bridge, he gave solid input throughout this match. Pity we didn't get more from him at Lord's. His catch to remove Alastair Cook in the first innings was epic.

Usman Khawaja: Despite that awful, disgraceful howler of a dismissal, he may be the player for the number three role. He has two more Tests to try and find his feet. So far he's looked okay, not great but okay. Better than lost and out of place!

Michael Clarke:
Last but not least the skipper. Tactically it has not been a good series for Clarkey and his time in the slips has seen better days with his "bucket-like" hands usually being as reliable as his batting has been the last two years. He put down Joe Root yesterday - a simple chance - and was stuck in cement when Alastair Cook edged Nathan Lyon behind onto Brad Haddin's leg, which then looped into the air and onto the turf. It could have saved us many runs, along with a poor use of DRS in the first two Tests, which cost us dearly.

It will hurt for Clarke having lost the game strategically, as he does have a good cricketing brain. Fortunately, he did arrive with the bat and he put together his highest innings against England and a big century (187), even though we would have loved a repeat of his performance in 2009 at Lord's. This one was a scratchy innings and far from his best, but there was a return of confidence and elegance that made his 2011/12 season so sublime. We need more of this and it seems the rest will follow.

Verdict: We still missed some big chances this Test. We secured victory for each days play but on the final day when we were right there to get the win the rain came down, Murphy's Law. England have had the good fortune at the best of times and this was the cherry on top. England won strategically this match, while performance wise we were the better side. The Ashes urn stays with them so the match goes to them. There's the bitter pill. 

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